Ryan Bebej

Dr. Bebej's current research focuses on the transition from foot-powered to tail-powered swimming in the earliest fossil cetaceans.

Dr. Bebej's research focuses on the evolutionary history of aquatic mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and pinnipeds (seals and sea lions). He is especially interested in the earliest stages of these land-to-sea transitions, in order to understand how the terrestrial and semiaquatic ancestors of these animals became increasingly adapted for aquatic life. His work has focused on the structural and functional changes of the vertebral column and the evolution of derived modes of aquatic locomotion.

When he isn’t working, Dr. Bebej loves spending time with his wife, two sons, and dog. He is a huge St. Louis Cardinals and University of Michigan fan, and he enjoys baseball, basketball, running, reading, watching movies, photography, and playing German-style tabletop games.


  • B.S. in Biology, Calvin College, 2005
  • Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 2011

Professional Experience

  • Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, IL), Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
  • Museum assistant, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, under the supervision of Dr. Philip Gingerich.
  • Field assistant on University of Michigan-Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency expedition in Wadi Al-Hitan, Egypt, under the supervision of Dr. Philip Gingerich and Dr. Iyad Zalmout (November 2, 2009-December 8, 2009).

Personal website: http://www.calvin.edu/~rmb2

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Academic interests

Dr. Bebej's academic interests include comparative anatomy, functional morphology, vertebrate paleontology, and the evolutionary history of mammals. In the past, he has worked on fossil horses and pinnipeds, but most of his research has focused on fossil cetaceans. For his doctoral work at the University of Michigan, he studied an enigmatic group of fossil whales from the middle Eocene of Pakistan called remingtonocetids. His research focused on their postcranial skeleton and utilized multivariate statistical analyses and three-dimensional multibody dynamic models to test hypotheses of vertebral function. In 2009, he spent two months on a paleontological dig in Egypt, where he helped to excavate the skeletons of fossil whales at Wadi Al-Hitan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Egypt's western desert. He routinely spends time working in collections at world-renowned museums (including the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC), where he studies the anatomies of modern mammals to aid in the interpretation of fossil forms. Professor Bebej is also interested in the relationship between science and Christian faith.

Research and scholarship

Evolution of Modern Whales

Analyzing a wealth of data concerning the evolution of modern whales from their terrestrial ancestors, including the origin of tail-powered swimming in early cetaceans.

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Selected publications

Bebej, R.M.. 2013. Book review: Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist by Robert J. Asher. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 65: 56-58.

Bebej, R.M., M. ul-Haq, I.S. Zalmout, and P.D. Gingerich. 2012. Morphology and function of the vertebral column in Remingtonocetus domandaensis (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the middle Eocene Domanda Formation of Pakistan. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 19: 77-104. DOI: 10.1007/s10914-011-9184-8

Bebej, R.M.. 2011. Functional morphology of the vertebral column in Remingtonocetus (Mammalia, Cetacea) and the evolution of aquatic locomotion in early archaeocetes. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Link

Wood, A.R., R.M. Bebej, C.L. Manz, D.L. Begun, and P.D. Gingerich. 2011. Postcranial functional morphology of Hyracotherium (Equidae, Perissodactyla) and locomotion in the earliest horses. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 18: 1-32. DOI: 10.1007/s10914-010-9145-7

Bebej, R.M. 2009. Swimming mode inferred from skeletal proportions in the fossil pinnipeds Enaliarctos and Allodesmus (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalian Evolution 16: 77-97. DOI:10.1007/s10914-008-9099-1

Van Dragt, R.G., D.P. Warners, R.M. Bebej, and J. Timmer. 2005. Natural areas inventory of Vergennes Township (Kent County, Michigan). Technical Report to the Open Space Citizens Committee, Vergennes Township, Kent County: 1-178.

In the news



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